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Primary Areas of Study Ocean Acidification Research at NOAA

Research Regions

With a $1 billion U.S. shellfish industry and hundreds of thousands of jobs at risk, understanding acidification in the oceans and Great Lakes is important to protecting our economies and well being.

The NOAA Ocean, Coastal, and Great Lakes Research Plan

is an agency-wide strategy, written by nearly 70 federal researchers and academic partners, to guide acidification science for the coming decade. The plan is comprised of chapters, each focusing on a different U.S. region, as well as a national chapter, which draws upon all of the regional and open ocean needs to identify research priorities for the entire U.S.
Download National Chapter

Acidification Science Matters

Ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes acidification represents the changes in water chemistry resulting in ecological impacts with cascading social and economic effects. This Plan focuses on acidification research to understand the ecosystem-related impacts to commercial activities, subsistence and recreational fishing, tourism, and social and cultural identities.

Download the Highlights >       Download the Plan >

Research Regions


The primary goals of the open ocean research plan are to determine how anthropogenic carbon and pH changes interact with natural variability to collectively act on ocean carbonate chemistry and biology. Additionally, to continue to support and enhance the NOAA contribution to the Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network (GOA-ON) with new sensors, autonomous platforms, and biological measurements to be co-located with the physical and chemical studies. These observations will validate models and calibrate satellite data synthesis products. Developing global maps and data synthesis products will provide information for national and international policy and adaptive actions, food security, fisheries and aquaculture practices, protection of coral reefs, shore protection, cultural identity, and tourism.

Alaska & Arctic

The cold waters of Alaska and the Arctic drive the high solubility of atmospheric carbon and ocean acidification (OA). Regional processes such as seasonal productivity, advection, and sea ice melt pulses also influence ocean change. The region supports major fisheries, some of which have demonstrated sensitivity to changes in ocean acidity (pH). Alaska communities depend heavily on marine resources for subsistence, cultural identity and well-being. The Arctic Region includes the broad continental shelf areas surrounding northern Alaska, including the Northern Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort seas.  While the U.S. Arctic is not currently home to a commercial fishery, northward migration of major fisheries stocks (e.g., Alaska pollock, Theragra chalcogramma, and Pacific cod, (Gadus macrocephalus) from the Eastern Bering Sea may support a commercial fishery in the future.

West Coast

The West Coast Region includes the U.S. coastal waters off of Washington, Oregon, and California, including the continental shelf and inland seas. These waters are influenced by adjacent regions in the Baja California and British Columbia regions, and are collectively referred to as the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem (CCLME). This region is an eastern boundary current system marked by seasonal upwelling, which brings old, cold, and low-pH, carbon-rich subsurface waters to the ocean surface and drives significant regional pH and temperature variability. The CCLME is home to a highly productive ecosystem yielding economically and culturally significant fisheries including Pacific salmon and Dungeness crab.

Pacific Islands

The Pacific Islands region includes the exclusive economic zones surrounding a diverse collection of islands and atolls — including the State of Hawaiʻi, the Territories of American Samoa and Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, and the U.S. Pacific Remote Island Areas — that are widely scattered across the western and central Pacific Ocean and separated by many thousands of kilometers of vast pelagic waters. Much of the region is uninhabited and federally protected, and these ecosystems generally experience relatively low levels of local anthropogenic stress. However, the Pacific Islands are significantly impacted by global forcing, including basin-wide climate variability such as the El Niño Southern Oscillation and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, and global climate change. This region is home to vibrant coral reef ecosystems, numerous threatened and endangered species, and economically- and culturally-significant fisheries supporting commercial industries and local communities.

Southeast Atlantic & Gulf of Mexico

The Southeast Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Region encompasses continental shelf waters extending from the North Carolina to Florida coasts on the Atlantic seaboard and the marginal sea bounded by the U.S. Gulf Coast. While these two regions experience different stress factors with regards to OA, they share similar needs with regards to local community engagement (or lack thereof), active research, and data availability. The regional influence of the Northward flowing Gulf Stream and southward flowing Labrador Sea currents in the Southeast Atlantic dominates the biogeochemical signatures of coastal waters in this region while the Gulf of Mexico is strongly influenced by the loop current and riverine inputs, which contribute to eutrophication and hypoxia. Impacts to coral reefs and the recreational and industrial fishing industry, and potential prevalence and frequency of harmful algal blooms are some of the issues this region faces that are potentially affected by increasing ocean acidity.

Florida Keys & Caribbean

This region encompasses a large geographic area comprised of the Florida Keys and coastal waters of south Florida, as well as Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the surrounding areas between the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. Processes driving acidification in this region range from global incorporation of anthropogenic carbon in surface waters to localized alteration of seawater chemistry by natural ecosystems, as well as human activities. Fluctuations in seawater carbon dioxide manifest on timescales ranging from decades to hours, making holistic characterization a challenging task. The region is home to especially sensitive coral reefs ecosystems and commercially important fisheries, which are all inexorably linked to coastal communities and economies.


The Gulf of Maine, Georges Bank, and Scotian Shelf. OA in this region is driven mainly by temperature changes and regional ocean circulation patterns of various water masses. This region is experiencing temperature changes three times greater than the global average. This area is also characterized by increases in precipitation during winter and spring, enhancing freshwater influx from riverine sources and contributing to eutrophication. Economically important species such as the Atlantic scallop and American lobster are impacted by regional changes in ocean chemistry and pose a threat to the fishing and aquaculture industries and the economy of the region.The Mid-Atlantic Bight Region geographically includes the eastern United States continental shelf area extending from Cape Hatteras, NC to Cape Cod, MA. Acidification in the region is modified by ocean circulation patterns, particularly influenced by the Labrador Sea water that forms the cold pool, natural seasonal and decadal variability and eutrophication. The Mid-Atlantic Bight is home to important commercial shellfisheries and finfish, which have shown some sensitivity to OA. 

Great Lakes

The Great Lakes Region includes Lake Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario representing a combined lake surface area of 244,000 km2. Acidification in the Great Lakes Region is predicted to occur at a rate similar to the oceans as a result of anthropogenic carbon emissions. In the Great Lakes, pH is also influenced seasonally and spatially by local primary productivity and historical impacts from acid deposition associated with poor air quality. This region supports culturally and economically significant fisheries and recreational tourism that create significant income for the regional and U.S. economy.


Our Three Major Research Areas

In support of NOAA's mission and guiding mandates, the Ocean Acidification Program supports critical research enhancing our understanding of environmental change, biological and ecosystem response, and the socioeconomic impacts that can lead to potential adaptive strategies.

See our Guiding Documents >

Observing and Predicting Acidification and Environmental Change

  • Expanding and advancing acidification observing systems and technologies
  • Enhancing foundational understanding and the ability to predict acidification
  • Supporting data management policies and synthesis efforts to ensure data are transitioned to useful products

Understanding Biological Sensitivity and Ecosystem Response

  • Understanding and predicting species, community, and ecosystem response
  • Determining the adaptive capacity of ecologically and economically important species
  • Evaluating acidification impacts in combination with other environmental stressors

Supporting Management, Adaptation, and Resilience

  • Integrating scientific knowledge into social, cultural, and economic frameworks
  • Creating products and tools to directly address adaptation and management needs
  • Assessing the vulnerability of communities to acidification in combination with other environmental changes

This research also advances Data science to get data in the hands of the people who need it most. It also informs Education and Outreach to promote awareness and action.

Looking for projects by Region?

Visit our Project Search to explore all OAP Projects >

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The NOAA Ocean Acidification Program (OAP) works to prepare society to adapt to the consequences of ocean acidification and conserve marine ecosystems as acidification occurs. Learn more about the human connections and adaptation strategies from these efforts.

Adaptation approaches fostered by the OAP include:


Using models and research to understand the sensitivity of organisms and ecosystems to ocean acidification to make predictions about the future, allowing communities and industries to prepare


Using these models and predictions as tools to facilitate management strategies that will protect marine resources and communities from future changes


Developing innovative tools to help monitor ocean acidification and mitigate changing ocean chemistry locally


On the Road

Drive fuel-efficient vehicles or choose public transportation. Choose your bike or walk! Don't sit idle for more than 30 seconds. Keep your tires properly inflated.

With your Food Choices

Eat local- this helps cut down on production and transport! Reduce your meat and dairy. Compost to avoid food waste ending up in the landfill

With your Food Choices

Make energy-efficient choices for your appliances and lighting. Heat and cool efficiently! Change your air filters and program your thermostat, seal and insulate your home, and support clean energy sources

By Reducing Coastal Acidification

Reduce your use of fertilizers, Improve sewage treatment and run off, and Protect and restore coastal habitats

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You've taken the first step to learn more about ocean acidification - why not spread this knowledge to your community?

Every community has their unique culture, economy and ecology and what’s at stake from ocean acidification may be different depending on where you live.  As a community member, you can take a larger role in educating the public about ocean acidification. Creating awareness is the first step to taking action.  As communities gain traction, neighboring regions that share marine resources can build larger coalitions to address ocean acidification.  Here are some ideas to get started:

  1. Work with informal educators, such as aquarium outreach programs and local non-profits, to teach the public about ocean acidification. Visit our Education & Outreach page to find the newest tools!
  2. Participate in habitat restoration efforts to restore habitats that help mitigate the effects of coastal acidification
  3. Facilitate conversations with local businesses that might be affected by ocean acidification, building a plan for the future.
  4. Partner with local community efforts to mitigate the driver behind ocean acidification  – excess CO2 – such as community supported agriculture, bike & car shares and other public transportation options.
  5. Contact your regional Coastal Acidification Network (CAN) to learn how OA is affecting your region and more ideas about how you can get involved in your community
       More for Taking Community Action